It's a great day for hockey - Photo Credit: Melody Hasse
Wisconsin comes home for the first time all season, as it hosts the Colorado College Tigers in a WCHA series.
I usually start my series previews with a few quotes from a song that I feel may be timely with either the Badgers upcoming opponent, or the situation that they may be in. This week however, just one phrase came to mind.
It's a great day for hockey.
Of course that's the legendary quote that "Badger" Bob Johnson made famous.
Badger Bob took over the Wisconsin hockey program in 1966, and turned it into the national powerhouse that it is today. Johnson led the Badgers to national championships in 1973, 77, and 1981.
Badger Bob would go on to coach in the NHL with the Calgary Flames and the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning a Stanley Cup in the steel city in 1991. Johnson is the only coach to win both an NCAA, and NHL title to this day.
Unfortunately Johnson lost his fight with brain cancer in 1991, just months after winning the cup with the Penguins.
Despite his passing, Badger Bob's legacy has carried on throughout the hockey world. The University of Wisconsin will do their part in recognizing his importance Friday night, when they dedicate the ice at the Kohl Center in his name.
From now on, the ice at the Kohl Center will forever be known as "Bob Johnson Rink."
You don't have to go very far to see another important part of Badger Bob's legacy, as his son Mark has turned the Wisconsin women's hockey program into a national powerhouse.
Mark spoke this week about what it means to him to have his father's memory live on at the Kohl Center.
"The exciting part for me personally is just knowing that fans and future players within the program, people that will be going in and watching the games at the Kohl Center will see his name on the ice," Johnson said this week.
"They might not know who he was, but they may go home and look up and look at his credentials, not only what he meant to Wisconsin hockey and helping grow the sport here in Madison and throughout the state, but the ambassador and what he was able to do around the world as far as what his role was, what his gift was, and what his ability was to share it with people and the influence that he had on so many people other than just hockey players."
As for the series itself, the Badgers will have their hands full with Colorado College this weekend. The Tigers are 3-3 to start the young season, and were swept last weekend on the road at Cornell. You can anticipate an eager bunch from Colorado Springs this weekend.
The Badgers took three of four points from UMD last weekend, and are playing at home at the Kohl Center for the first time this season.
Despite returning everyone up front from last seasons roster, the Badgers haven't found their groove offensively yet this year. Obviously their opponents have had a lot to do with that, but a new forchecking system has played a role as well.
Last week we talked in depth about the Badgers going from a more traditional 1-2-2 system that they used last year, to a 1-1-3. At times Wisconsin has ran it to perfection, and at others they have looked like they are lost in the wilderness.
With this being the third weekend that the Badgers are on the ice, I'd expect to see that system continue to evolve in a positive manner for Wisconsin.
Mark Zengerle continued his offensive ways last weekend in Duluth, notching a goal and two assists on the weekend. Zengerle now carries a four game point streak to start the season.
Michael Mersch is off to another great start as well. The junior winger notched his second and third goals of the season against UMD, and is well on his way to a 20 goal season.
Matt Paape is expected to center his line, with Brad Navin and Morgan Zulinick on his wings.
One positive for the Badgers offensively is the return of center Derek Lee. The senior missed last weekend's series after a freak scooter accident put him out of commission. Lee will center a line with Mersch and Keegan Meuer vs the Tigers.
BADGER DEFENSE & GOALIES
Wisconsin's transition out of the the Justin Schultz era has been slow at times, but the Badgers are starting to see some improvement with the guys who are expected to step up in his absence.
Everyone who was in Duluth last weekend noted the solid play of John Ramage. The senior captain had his best weekend as a Badger one week ago according to the coaching staff, and they are hoping that he continues on that level all season long.
Jake McCabe and Frankie Simonelli have found themselves a nice pairing, and add a little offensive punch from the back end that is sorely lacking since the departure of Schultz.
Freshmen Kevin Schulze and Eddie Wittchow looked much better as the weekend wore on vs UMD, and I'd expect to see continual improvement from the two young blue-liners.
In net Joel Rumpel was nothing short of phenomenal all weekend vs the Bulldogs. He's expected to get the nod for the third straight game on Friday.
One big hole in the lineup for Colorado College this season has been Jaden Schwartz. The former NHL first round draft pick decided to sign a contract with the St. Louis Blues after just two seasons in Colorado Springs, and the Tigers are missing his offensive firepower.
Last weekend CC was able to manage just two goals on the road vs Cornell, and have scored just three goals in their past three games total.
One of the players that was expected to step up in his absence was his older brother, Rylan. The senior forward was projected by many, including myself, to be an All-WCHA type forward once again this season for the Tigers. However he's chipped in just four points (one goal, three assists) through six games this season.
Colorado College still has quite a bit of talent, including the likes of William Rapuzzi, Scott Winkler, Alexander Krushelnyski, and Andrew Hamberg. However in an effort to generate more offense throughout his lineup, CC head coach Scott Owens has spread his playmakers over three lines.
It wouldn't surprise me if Owens loaded up a top group with Schwartz to try and generate some more goals this weekend.
TIGER DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS
Another senior who hasn't produced this season like he has in the past is defenseman Mike Boivin. The senior blue-liner chipped in 25 points last season on the offensive end while playing stellar two-way hockey for the Tigers. So far through six games Boivin has added just a pair of assists.
Stevens Point native Aaron Harstad is of to a hot start this season for CC. The sophomore defenseman had added a goal and three assists this season, and looks to have taken the next step in his development.
The Tigers strongest part of their back end is between the pipes. Last season Josh Thorimbert surprised many when he stole the starting job away from incumbent Joe Howe. Thorimbert had great numbers last year for CC, but hasn't gotten the same type of help so far early this year with the graduation of Gabe Guentzel.
Expect to see Thorimbert on Friday night, and he's more than capable of stealing a game on the road for the Tigers.
THREE KEY'S TO SUCCESS VS COLORADO COLLEGE
- Continue to block shots. Last weekend the Badgers blocked countless shots, especially on the power play. Keeping the puck away from the net usually leads to good things.
- Move the puck on the power play. Wisconsin had a power play goal last weekend, but it seemed like there was too much standing around at times. The Badgers need to get the puck moving to move the penalty killers around to create passing lanes for scoring opportunities.
- Feed off the emotion of the crowd. Should be a big crowd this weekend with the first home games of the year, the Bob Johnson ceremony, and no football game. Use that to your advantage.
Friday night's game is on TV on FS Wisconsin (+). Based on what we've been able to find out, that is channel 449 on Dish, 685 on Direct TV, 323 on Charter, and 745 on AT&T UVERSE.
The game will also be shown on tape delay on the Wisconsin Channel.
As always the games can be found on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA 1310.
Colorado College and Wisconsin are both receiving votes in the USCHO.com poll.
Wisconsin will be without sophomore center Brendan Woods who is out with an undisclosed upper body injury.
Colorado College swept Wisconsin 4-2, 4-1 in Colorado Springs last season.
Badger Bob coached at Colorado College from 1963 to 1966 before coming to Wisconsin to take over the Badger program. Johnson made $13,000 in his first season on the Badger bench.
Mike Eaves on whether or not Badger Bob would still be relevant if he was coaching today.
"Without a doubt, he was cutting edge all through his career."
The Badgers are flying high, and the Tigers have lost three straight. Wisconsin is opening up the Kohl Center for the first time all season, and CC is on the road for the second straight weekend. That adds up to three Badger points for me.
Friday: Wisconsin 3, Colorado College 1
Saturday: Wisconsin 2, Colorado College 2
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